UK and Irish universities’ fundraising income drops 17 per cent

Institutions’ investment in fundraising and alumni relations declined during pandemic, says report

April 30, 2021
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Philanthropic donations to universities in the UK and the Republic of Ireland declined by 17 per cent in the past academic year, with 11 universities now being classed as “fragile” in terms of their fundraising activities, according to a survey of charitable giving.

A report published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) found that new philanthropic funds secured during the 2019-20 academic year totalled £1.09 billion, a £236 million drop since the previous year.

The average value of the largest new gifts and pledges decreased by 24 per cent, but the number of donors increased by 3.6 per cent, rising to 5 per cent when counting only alumni donors. Overall, 214,000 donors gave money to a total of 94 higher education institutions surveyed, with 219 benefactors pledging gifts of more than £500,000.

Meanwhile, universities’ average investments in both fundraising and alumni relations shrank by 9 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively, compared with 2018-19 levels, according to the annual Case-Ross survey.

However, the report stresses that the overall story is “strongly positive”, noting that charitable fundraising remained above the £1 billion mark for the third year in a row. It adds that the decline in total funds represents “a return to 2017-18 performance levels” while “the 2018-19 all-time high included a single new pledge of £150 million for one elite institution”.

“Universities’ willingness to invest in asking, and donors’ ongoing willingness to give, does not seem to have been affected materially by the pandemic in the last quarter of the 2019-20 financial year,” it says.

The report includes a cluster analysis that groups universities into six categories based on their fundraising performance: elite, established, moderate, developing, emerging and, for the first time this year, fragile. According to the study, the initial analysis produced a large emerging cluster and further research showed that it divided naturally into a group of 22 emerging and 11 fragile institutions.

While this means that the cluster analysis cannot be directly compared with last year’s research and does not necessarily represent a significant sector shift to more fragile institutions, the analysis reveals that there have been advancement team closures and staff reductions at these fragile universities.

“In 2019-20, it seems, institutional commitments to fundraising suffered for some institutions with the least mature programmes,” it says.

On average, each university received £12 million in charitable donations last academic year, rising to £226 million for elite universities and falling to just £78,000 for fragile institutions.

Four fewer universities participated in the survey compared with last year; the report says that even some “relatively mature offices” were unable to complete the study or to provide all the data points because of staff pressures.

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Reader's comments (1)

The elite institution is, of course, Oxford, accepting money (£150m) from Schwarzman which some (indeed, in an internal letter of opposition to its acceptance) have alleged raises ethical considerations. UKHE shd be alert to the implications.